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Hookey v. Lomas

March 11, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rambo


Plaintiff Megan Hookey ("Hookey") initiated this civil rights action on December 22, 2008 with a complaint filed pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (Doc. 1), as amended April 29, 2009, (Doc. 25), while confined at the State Correctional Institution in Muncy, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Muncy"). Hookey sets forth allegations against several employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), a Pennsylvania State Trooper, an employee of the Lighthouse Prison Ministry, and the Honorable John DiSalle of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Hookey contends that all these Defendants violated her constitutional rights in the context of state court custody proceedings involving her child. She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory relief.

Before the court is a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, filed by Defendant Judge DiSalle. (Doc. 46.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

Hookey began her incarceration at SCI-Muncy on January 23, 2008. (Doc. 25 ¶ 14.) At the time, she was pregnant. (Id.) According to Hookey, prior to giving birth, she arranged for the agency Lighthouse Prison Ministry to care for the child after its birth. (Id. ¶ 20.) Hookey and a caretaker from the agency named Susie Mack signed an agreement granting Ms. Mack legal and physical custody of the child until Hookey's release from prison. (Id. ¶ 21.)

After Hookey gave birth to a son while still incarcerated, an individual named Aaron Jones filed for custody of the child on April 8, 2008. (Id. ¶ 22.) Hookey maintains that Jones is not the biological father of her child. (Id. ¶ 23.) On July 28, 2008, Judge DiSalle entered an order awarding sole custody of the child to Aaron Jones, and allowed law enforcement to enforce the order. (Id. ¶ 27.) Hookey contends that Judge DiSalle violated her constitutional rights to equal protection for failing to stay the custody case pending the resolution of a paternity test. (Id. ¶ 26.)

On July 28, 2008, with the court order and the assistance of Defendant Townshend, a Pennsylvania State Trooper, Jones acquired physical custody of the child from Susie Mack. (Id. ¶ 28.) Thereafter, on October 14, 2008, Hookey avers that she sent a letter to Judge DiSalle "to file motions pursuant to case, and attached personal letter to defendant DiSalle about abuse, neglect, and illegal proceedings he authorized." (Id. ¶ 38.) She also claims that she has written thirty-one letters to Judge DiSalle "about illegal proceedings, violations of the court laws that he authorized leading to abuse, neglect, and possible death of the plaintiff Hookey's infant." (Id. ¶ 39)

On November 18, 2008, Judge DiSalle issued an order scheduling a custody review hearing for January 6, 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.) In the order, Judge DiSalle directed SCI-Muncy officials to allow Hookey to participate by telephone. (Id. ¶ 48.) According to Hookey, SCI-Muncy officials refused to comply with Judge DiSalle's order. (Id. ¶ 49.) She claims that she filed with Judge DiSalle a motion to compel SCI-Muncy officials to allow her participation. (Id. ¶ 50.) Hookey contends that Judge DiSalle violated her constitutional rights of equal protection and access to courts by ignoring that motion and refusing to allow her to testify about the abuse and neglect suffered by her child. (Id. ¶ 51.)

Hookey filed the amended complaint on April 29, 2009, seeking compensatory and punitive damages against all the Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 64-65.) She also seeks a declaratory judgment that the Defendants' actions were illegal and unconstitutional.*fn1

(Id. ¶ 66.) Judge DiSalle filed the instant motion to dismiss Hookey's amended complaint on July 20, 2009, based on the doctrine of judicial immunity. (Doc. 46.) This motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice" in Rule 8(a)(2) "depends on the type of case -- some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted).

"[A] situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id. A plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; accord, e.g., Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32; Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (the court is not "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.") (quotations and citations omitted)); Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (recognizing that Rule 8 pleading standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation") (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). Accord Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face," a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570; Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007). See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (explaining a claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"). Further, when a complaint contains well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to ...

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